It’s 1:30 Monday afternoon and I just drove home from Santa Clara where Jim Harbaugh conducted his weekly news conference. I will write my column based on it later.
One thing struck me and I want to talk to you about this. It was Harbaugh’s use of words — I will call them war words and I’ll get back to them in a moment.
First, I want to tell you about Ian Watt, my professor at Stanford, now deceased. He directed my PhD thesis on Joseph Conrad — although I don’t think he much liked it. Ian wrote a famous book called The Rise of the Novel. Anyone who wants to know about the English novel must read that great book. Ian was English, was educated at Cambridge, and he was an academic genius and he helped me think precisely, although I don’t always do that.
He introduced me to the specificity of words and he made me appreciate that. Once I wrote a sentence about something or other, and he took issue with it, said my thinking was imprecise. I said, “You know what I mean.” He stared at me. “I only know the words you write,” he informed me. And I got the point. You mean what you say or write. No one assumes anything else.
Now, I come back to Harbaugh. He was talking today about tying the Rams and he was praising the Rams, I believe. “It’s the NFL,” he said. “The enemy gets a vote.”
It was a gracious thing to say but the word enemy was the wrong word. I bring this up because he often refers to the other team as the enemy. The other team is NOT the enemy. I hear Ian Watt in my head as I write this. I wish Harbaugh had met Ian.
The other team is the other team. It is the opponent. All the teams play together, and they play by the same rules. When the game is over they shake hands. They are in the same league and they share TV profit. Hardly enemies.
The word enemy tells you a lot about Harbaugh. It really does. He thinks of opponents as enemies — I believe that. In his mind football is war — that explains all his secrecy, secrecy he takes to extremes.
Maybe it makes him a better coach to think of football as war and opponents as enemies. But football is not war. War is war. War is way more serious than football and way more sad and it is not a form of playing.
Harbaugh is getting his words all mixed up. Ian, a prisoner of the Japanese in World War II, most certainly would have told him that.